The Talmud: Selections, by H. Polano, , at sacred-texts.com
AND it came to pass when Nebuchadnezzar died, that his son, Evil-Merodach, claimed the kingdom. But the people refused to anoint him as ruler, and they said to him:
"Behold, once before was thy father removed from the vicinity of human beings and compelled to eat herbs and grass like the beasts of the field for seven years. And lo, we deemed him dead and appointed princes in his stead to rule over us, and when he returned he put these princes to death. How can we now make you king? It may be with your father as it was m former days, he may yet return."
Now when the people spoke thus to Evil-Merodach, he went to his father's tomb and removed from the same the corpse of the king. He fastened an iron chain about its feet, and dragged his father's body through the streets of the capital, to prove to the people that he was indeed dead. As it is written in Isaiah:
"But thou, thou art cast out of thy grave like a discarded offshoot." (Isaiah 14: 19.)
Then the people of the country proclaimed Evil-Merodach king.
And Daniel said to the king:
"Thy father, Nebuchadnezzar, never opened the door of his prisons" (meaning when he once incarcerated a person it was for life), "as it is written, 'never opened the prison-house of his prisoners.' (Isaiah 14: 17.) Now when the
[paragraph continues] Israelites were adjudged guilty by God of the many sins which they committed, behold thy father came up and laid the land of Israel desolate. He destroyed our holy temple, and our people he sent captives and exiles to Babel. Among them was Yehoyachim the king of Judah. For thirty-two years he has lain in prison because he neglected to follow the will of God. Now, I pray thee, let him be released. Oh, be not stiff-necked. Remember the punishment of thy father when he became proud and blasphemed, and said, 'There is no king or ruler but myself only,' as it is written, 'I will ascend above the height of the clouds; I will be equal to the Most High.'" (Isaiah 14: 14.)
Then Evil-Merodach listened to the words of Daniel and performed the will of God. He released Yehoyachim, the king of the tribe of Judah, and he opened the doors to the other prisoners and gave them liberty.
And He anointed Yehoyachim, and dressed him in royal garments; "and he ate bread before him continually all the days of his life." (Kings 25: 29.)
And from Evil-Merodach the kingdom descended to Darius of Media, and Ahasuerus, of Persia, was the son of Darius of Media.
From the house of this same Ahasuerus was banished Vashti, the daughter of Evil-Merodach, the son of Nebuchadnezzar. For her iniquity was she banished, for she compelled the Jewish women to labour upon their holy Sabbath.
This same Ahasuerus commanded that the wine of one hundred and twenty-seven provinces should be furnished on his banquet table, that the men of one hundred and twenty-seven provinces might drink, each man of the wine of his own country, of his own province, that he might not consume strange and hurtful drink.
This same Ahasuerus was a foolish king. "My queen shall be sent away," he ordered; "but my decree must never be abolished."
In the time of this same Ahasuerus the people of Israel were sold,--aye, without money; as it is written: "For naught were ye sold." (Isaiah 52: 3.)
And in the time of this same Ahasuerus the words written in the Pentateuch came to pass: "In the morning shall ye say, 'Would that it were evening,' and in the evening, 'Would that the morning were nigh.'" (Deut. 28: 67.)
This was the same Ahasuerus who once dismissed his wife for the sake of his friend, and again killed his friend for the sake of his wife. He sent away Vashti, his wife, in accordance with the advice of Memuchan his friend, and he killed his friend Haman, for the sake of Esther, his wife.
And it came to pass in the days of this Ahasuerus that he desired to sit upon the throne of Solomon. The magnificent throne of Solomon which had been carried from Jerusalem to Egypt by Sheshak the king of Egypt. From his hands it passed to Sennacherib the king of Assyria; from him was it returned to Hezekiah, and again carried away by Pharaoh Nechoh of Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babel, wrenched it from the possession of Pharaoh, and when Cyrus, the king of Media,. conquered the land of Persia, the throne was brought to Shushan and passed into the possession of Ahasuerus.
But he had a new throne made for himself. He sent artisans to Alexandria, and they were two years making for him his throne. "In the third year of his reign, the king Ahasuerus sat upon his own throne, and Solomon's throne was not used any more."
"There was a certain Jew in Shushan, the capital, whose name was Mordecai."
Why was Mordecai called a Jew? He was not of the tribe of Judah, but a descendant of Benjamin? He was called a Jew because he feared the Lord as all Jews should do.
Mordecai was a descendant of Shimï, whose life King David spared when he had incurred the penalty of death for reviling his ruler. For David foresaw the miracle which should be wrought through the instrumentality of Mordecai in years then hidden in the future.
And Mordecai brought up his cousin Hadassah or Esther. She was called Hadassah (meaning "myrtle") because of her sweet disposition and kindly acts, which were compared to the fragrant perfume and ever fresh beauty of the myrtle. In many instances the righteous are compared to the myrtle, as in Isaiah (55: 13), "In place of the thorn the fir tree shall spring forth, and the nettle shall give place to the myrtle."
This sentence is thus construed:
Instead of Haman, the thorn, the fir tree, Mordecai shall spring forth; and in place of Vashti, compared to a nettle, Esther, the myrtle, shall share the Persian throne.
Her name, Esther, was also well chosen; from the Greek, Estarah, a bright star. Her pious deeds ceased only with her life, and her beauty was equalled only by her spiritual qualities.
Shortly before Esther's birth her father died, and her mother followed him when the babe drew her first breath. Then Mordecai, her father's nephew, adopted her, and brought her up as his child.
After the king had married Esther he was anxious to learn her descent, and asked her, "Where are thy kindred? Behold, I have prepared a banquet, bid them attend."
And Esther answered him
"Thou art a wise king, and surely thou knowest that my parents are dead; do not sadden me, I pray, my lord, by such inquiries."
’Twas then that the king released the people from the payment of the year's taxes, and gave presents "according to his ability" to all his nobles, declaring that it was done in "Esther's honour."
He imagined that through this the fame of the proceeding and Esther's name would become known throughout the nations, and he might learn thereby of her people.
When this plan failed he called all the beautiful virgins of his provinces together again, thinking that jealousy might induce Esther to tell him of her predecessors, but without avail. Esther mentioned not her people.
"In those days, when Mordecai was sitting in the king's gate, .Bigthana and Theresh became wroth," &c.
Rabbi Johanan said: "God has made servants wroth against their lords for the accomplishment of justice, and He has also made masters wroth with their servants for the same purpose." The latter instance is to be found in the history of Joseph, as it is written, "There was with us in the prison a Hebrew lad," and the former instance is that of Bigthana and Theresh, the chamberlains of the king.
"And the thing became known to Mordecai."
The two officers spoke in a strange language; they thought that Mordecai could not understand them. But Mordecai had been a member of the Sanhedrim; he was a learned man, and what they said was well understood by him.
One officer said to the other:
"Since the king married Esther we have had neither rest nor peace; the coming and the going makes life wearisome it would be better for us if we should remove him from the world."
The other acquiesced with him, but said:
"How is it to be done? I am on guard; I cannot leave."
But the first speaker said:
"Go, and I will attend to both thy guard and mine."
Therefore it is written, "And the thing was inquired info and found true;" that is, one of the guards was found absent from his post.
"After these events." What events?
After God had created the remedy before the infliction of the wound; after Mordecai had saved the king's life before the orders for the destruction of his people were promulgated.
After these events the king advanced Haman, the son of Hamdatha, the Agagite, to an illustrious position in the kingdom. He was raised, however, but to be destroyed. His destiny was like to that of the hog in the parable of the horse, the colt, and the hog.
A certain man possessed a horse, a colt, and a hog. For the two former he measured out daily a certain amount of food; so much was their allowance, no more, no less; the hog, however, was allowed to eat according to his own pleasure. Said the colt to the horse, "How is this? Is it just? We work for our food while the hog is a useless animal; surely we should have as much to eat as is given him."
"Wait," answered the horse, "and you will soon see, in the downfall of the hog, the reason."
With the coming of the autumn the hog was killed.
"See," said the horse, "they did not give the hog so much to eat for his own benefit, but in order to fatten him for the killing."
Haman was a direct descendant of Esau. His father,
[paragraph continues] Hamdatha, was the son of Sararch, he of Kuzah, Iphlotas, Joseph, Josim, Pedome, Madé, Belaäkan, Intimrom, Haridom, Shegar, Negar, Parmashtáh, Vayzathah, Agag, Sumki, Amalek, and lastly Eliphaz, the first-born of Esau.
"Why transgressest thou the king's commands?"
The servants of the king's gate said to Mordecai:
"Why wilt thou refuse to bow before Haman, transgressing thus the wishes of the king? Do we not bow before him?"
"Ye are foolish," answered Mordecai, "aye, wanting in reason. Listen to me. Shall a mortal, who must return to dust, be glorified? Shall I bow down before one born of woman, whose days are short? When he is small he cries and weeps as a child; when he grows older sorrow and sighing are his portion; his days are full of wrath and anger, and at the end he returns to dust. Shall I bow to one like to him? No, I prostrate myself before the Eternal God, who lives for ever. He who dwells in Heaven and bears the world in the hollow of His hand. His word changes sunlight to darkness, His command illumines the deepest gloom. His wisdom made the world, He placed the boundaries of the mighty sea; the waters are His, the sweet and the salt; to the struggling waves he says, 'Be still, thus far shalt thou come, no further, that the earth may remain dry for my people.' To Him the great Creator and Ruler of the Universe, and to no other will I bow."
Haman was wroth against Mordecai, and said to him:
"Why art thou so stiff-necked? Did not thy forefather bow down to mine?"
"How?" replied Mordecai; "which of my ancestors bowed before forefather of thine?"
Then Haman answered:
"Jacob, thy forefather, bowed down to Esau, his brother, who was my forefather."
"Not so," answered Mordecai, "for I am descended from Benjamin, and when Jacob bowed to Esau, Benjamin was not yet born. Benjamin never bowed until his descendants prostrated themselves in the holy temple, when the divinity of God rested within its sacred portals, and all Israel united with him. I will not bow before the wicked Haman."
"In the first month, that is, in the month Nissan (April), they cast the lot before Haman." He cast the lot "from day to day." At first he selected the first day of the week as the one for the destruction of the Jews; but then he said, "No; light was created upon that day, which is to their merit. On the second day the heavens were created; also to their merit. On the third day, the Garden of Eden, with all the herbs and trees; on the fourth the sun, moon, stars, and all the hosts of Heaven, also a merit to them. On the fifth day the fowls of the Heaven were created, and among them the pigeon, which the Jews have used for a sacrifice, so that will not answer for their extermination. On the sixth day Adam and Eve were created, and on the seventh day is their Sabbath, the covenant between them and their God."
He then took his chances with the months. In the month of Nissan (April) they were released from the servitude of Egypt, and many miracles were performed in their favour. In the month of Iyar (May) the manna first descended from Heaven, and in that month, too, five calamities were to happen. During the month of Sivan they received the ten commandments, and hold their feast of weeks. Neither of these months would do. The next cast was the Month Tamuz (July). But in that month the walls of
[paragraph continues] Jerusalem were destroyed, and Haman, thinking that might prove sufficient punishment for any of their sins in that month, passed it by and cast again. The next lot fell on Ab (August). But in that month the last of the generations doomed to wander through the wilderness forty years had perished. The time of their punishment had expired, and in that same month Moses had spoken with God, and prayed to Him, "Show me Thy Glory." This was too great a month to the Israelites to allow its selection for their extermination.
The next month was Elul (September). ’Twas in this month that Moses ascended for the third time the mount of God, to receive the second tables of stone. Also, during this month, the walls of Jerusalem were completed, as it is written in Nehemiah 6: 15: "And so was the wall finished on the twenty-and-fifth day of the month Elul."
Tishri (October) would not be favourable to his purpose, because the Day of Atonement, when all Israel would be devout in prayer, occurs within it. Neither would the following month, Heshvan, suit his designs, because it was in this month that the waters of the flood were set loose upon the world and Noah and his family saved. During Kislev (December) the foundation of the Temple was laid. In Thebet (January) Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, also a sufficient punishment for that period, And also, during this month, the eleven tribes made peace with Benjamin. Neither was Shebat (February) a month displaying any guilty action deserving of God's wrath on the part of His people. When he came to the month of Adar, however, he said, "Lo, I have thee now, even as the fish of the sea" (the sign of the month's planet being two fish). In this month the lawgiver, Moses, died, and Haman thought it would prove unlucky for Israel. He forgot, however, that
[paragraph continues] Moses was also born in Adar, on the seventh, day of the month.
"Then said Haman unto King Ahasuerus:
"There is a people scattered throughout thy provinces, yet separate and distinct from the nation among which they dwell. They will not intermingle or associate with us. They will not marry with the daughters of our land, neither will they allow our sons to wed their daughters. They do not aid in building up the state, for they have many holy days on which they are idle and refuse to traffic. The first hour of each day they devote to their prayer, 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord is One.' The second hour they also sing praises, and much time they waste in prayers and graces. Each seventh day they make a Sabbath, and pass the time in their synagogues reading from their Pentateuch and their prophets; aye, and in cursing thee, the king. They enter their children into a covenant of the flesh when they are but eight days old, that they may remain a peculiar people for ever. In the month of Nissan they hold a feast, which they call the Passover, when they remove all leaven from their houses, and they say, 'As we remove the leaven from our houses, so may the wicked king be removed from our midst.' They have many fasts and feasts, upon all of which they curse the king, and pray for thy death and the downfall of thy kingdom. Lo, there arose once a king, Nebuchadnezzar, who destroyed their temple, despoiled their great city, Jerusalem, and sent the inhabitants thereof into exile. Still their pride and stubborn spirit remained unbroken. Know, also, that their fathers went down into Egypt, seventy men, and when they went up from thence they numbered full six hundred thousand, in addition to their women and little ones. Among this nation there are men, large dealers they buy and they sell, but they
execute not the laws of the king and the realm. What profit, then, is it to have such a people scattered through thy provinces?
"Now, if it be pleasing in the eyes of the king, let a decree be published to destroy and exterminate them from our midst."
And Ahasuerus answered:
"We are not able to do this thing. Their God has not deserted them, and they have prevailed over people greater and stronger than ourselves. We cannot accept thy advice in this matter."
Still Haman persisted from time to time to pour complaints against the Jews in the ears of the king, and to urge their complete destruction. Finally Ahasuerus said, "As thou hast troubled me so much about this thing I will call together my officers, counsellors, and wise men, and ask their opinion."
When these sages were called before him the king put the question to them, and asked:
"Now what is your advice, shall this nation be destroyed or not?"
And the wise men answered unanimously, and said:
"Should Israel be stricken from existence the world itself would no longer be; for through the merit of Israel and the law given to them the world exists. Are the people not called near to God (relatives)? 'Unto the children of Israel, a people near to Him.' Not alone this, they are also called children of the Lord, as it is written, 'Ye are the children of the Lord your God' (Dent. 14: r). Who can escape that raises a hand against his children? Pharaoh was punished for his conduct towards them; how shall we escape?"
Then Haman arose and replied to these words:
"The God who caused the death of Pharaoh and his hosts has grown old and feeble; his power leas departed from him. Did not Nebuchednezzar destroy his temple and send his people into exile? Why did he not prevent that if he was all-powerful?"
By such arguments as these Haman altered the opinions and advice of the sages, and the letters ordering the massacre which he desired were prepared according to his command.
When Mordecai ascertained what had been done he rent his garments, clothed himself in sackcloth, and sat in ashes. He wept in his anguish, and said, "Woe, woe to us for this severe decree. Not even a half of our people shall be saved, nor a third part nor a fourth, but the whole body must be rooted out; woe, woe to us!"
Then when the Israelites beheld Mordecai's grief and heard his words, they assembled together, a great multitude of people, and Mordecai addressed them as follows:
"Ye people of Israel, ye chosen ones of our Father in Heaven, know ye not what has happened? Have ye heard naught of the decree against us, that Haman and the king have ordered our destruction from the face of the earth? We have no friendly influence on which to depend, no prophets to pray for us, no city of refuge. We are a flock without a shepherd; we are as a ship at sea without a pilot, as orphans without a father, aye, as sucklings who have lost their mother."
Then they carried the ark in which the scrolls of the law were deposited, into the streets of Shushan, and draped the same in mourning colours. And Mordecai opened the scrolls and read the passage in Deuteronomy (4: 30), "When thou art in tribulation, and all these things have overtaken thee, in the latter end of days, then wilt thou return to the
[paragraph continues] Lord thy God, and be obedient unto His voice. For a merciful God is the Lord thy God."
"People of the house of Israel," said Mordecai, "let us follow the example of the men of Nineveh, at the time when Jonah, the son of Amitai, was sent to proclaim the overthrow of their capital. The king rose from his throne, changed his royal robes for sackcloth and ashes, and caused a fast to be proclaimed. Neither man nor beast, neither herds nor flocks, tasted of food or drank of water. 'God saw their works that they turned from their evil ways, and God bethought Himself of the evil which He had spoken that He would do them and He did it not' (Jonah 3: 7). Let us likewise proclaim a penitential fast; these men were saved, and they were heathens; we are the sons of Abraham, and it behooves us more especially to repent our evil ways and trust to the forgiveness of a merciful God Turn ye, turn ye from your unrighteous paths, oh house of Israel, wherefore will ye die!"
And when he had finished speaking these words, Mordecai went out into the city and cried with a loud and bitter cry.
The house of Israel was filled with dread at the edict of the king. Sorrow crossed the threshold of each Jewish home; a spirit of anguish filled every habitation.
A certain man called on a Persian friend and entreated him to use his influence to save his life and the lives of his family. "I, my wife, and my children will be your slaves," said he, "only save our lives."
The Persian answered:
"How can I do so? The decree stares that any Persian harbouring a Jew shall be put to death with him."
The Israelite departed with a broken spirit. "How truly," said he, "have the words of the Bible been fulfilled?
[paragraph continues] 'Ye will offer yourselves for sale unto your enemies, for bondmen and bondwomen, without any one to buy ye.'" (Deut. 28: 68.)
Each day the people marked the passage of time, by saying, "Thus many days more have the Jews to live," and so was another Biblical passage verified.
"And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee . . . . In the morning thou wilt say, Who would but grant that it were only evening! And at evening thou wilt say, Who would but grant that it were only morning! From the dread of thy heart which thou wilt experience, and from the sight of thy eyes which thou wilt see." (Deut. 28: 66-67.) And with each day the morning increased and hope seemed still more vain.
If we lose a relation or a dear friend, our grief is at first intense, but with each day it loses its poignancy until we are consoled and comforted. How different was it in the case of the condemned Jews; each day the wailing grew stronger, for each day but brought them nearer to the hour of their destruction.
The act of Ahasuerus in intrusting his ring to Haman, was productive of more repentant feelings in the people of Israel than had been the words of their forty-eight prophets.
The prophets had cautioned Israel against serving idols, and urged upon them the necessity of atonement, and yet their words had been unheeded; but with the transmission of the king's ring to Haman's possession, the great call for repentance made itself immediately heard.
But Haman was to receive his punishment. There is a saying of the Rabbis, "If a stone falls upon a pitcher, the pitcher breaks; if the pitcher falls upon the stone, the pitcher also breaks." Be it as it may, it is bad for the pitcher, and bad similarly for the enemies of Israel; for
even when Israel strays from righteousness, the instruments of their chastisement are also punished, as in the instances of Nebuchadnezzar, Titus, Haman, &c.
"Then came the maidens of Esther with her chamberlains, and told it to her (the grief of Mordecai) . . . And she called Hathach and gave him a charge for Mordecai to know what this was, and why this was . . . And Mordecai told him all that had happened unto him."
Meaning, a dream, which Mordecai had dreamt in the second year of the reign of King Ahasuerus, he now recollected and told to Hathach. "An earthquake shook the world, and darkness and great storms frightened the inhabitants. Two monsters were engaged in deadly conflict, and the noise of the struggle caused the nations to quake with fear. In the midst of the nations was a small weak people, and the other nations wished to blot it from the world. A great distress oppressed this few people and they cried aloud to God for succour and protection. Then a small spring arose, even between the two monsters that were battling, and it increased in size until it seemed to become as wide and boundless as the sea, even as though it would engulf the world. Then the sun broke forth in brightness o’er the earth, and the weak nation, blessed with peace, dwelt safely, though the ruins of many greater nations were spread about it."
This dream he had previously related to Esther, and now through her messenger, he sent the queen this word:
"Behold, thou wilt recollect the dream which I related to thee in thy youth. Arise, pray to God and beseech from Him mercy; then go before the king and speak bravely for the cause of thy people and thy kindred." And further he sent to Esther these words:
"'Imagine not in thy soul,' and say not 'the king has selected me for his queen; and. therefore I need not pray
for mercy to Israel.' Into exile thou wert carried as well as the rest of thy people, and the decree which destroys one, destroys all. Do not imagine that thou alone canst escape, of all the Jews. For the sin of thy great grandfather Saul do we now suffer. If he had obeyed the words of Samuel, the wicked Haman had not descended from him who was of the family of Amalek. If Saul had slain Agag, the son of Hamadatha had not bought us for ten thousand silver talents; the Lord would not have delivered Israel into the hands of the wicked. Yet Moses prayed to the Lord for Israel, and Joshua discomforted Amalek; so arise thou, and pray before thy Father in heaven, and he who did execute justice on Amalek will now do the same to his wicked seed. From three oppressors of Israel does Haman draw his life-blood. First, Amalek, who was the first to fight against Israel, and who was defeated by Joshua. Next, Sisera, who laid a hand of iron upon our ancestors and met his punishment through a woman, Ja’el. Lastly, Goliath, who defied the camp of Israel and was laid low by the son of Jesse. Therefore, let not thy prayers cease, for God has ever listened to the breathings of a contrite heart, and for the sake of our ancestors He will show us favour. They were delivered from their enemies when all seemed hopeless. Pray, therefore, and imagine not that thou alone, of all thy people, shall be able to find safety."
On the day when Mordecai ordered his brethren to fast and humble themselves before God, he uttered the following supplication:
"Our God and God of our fathers, seated on Thy throne of grace! Oh Lord of the universe, Thou knowest that not through the promptings of a proud heart did I refuse to bow before Haman. Thee only I fear, and I am jealous of the glory of Thy presence; I could not give to flesh and
blood Thy honour--to the creature that which belongs to the Creator alone. Oh God, deliver us from his hand, and let his feet become entangled in the net which he has spread for us. Let the world know, oh our Redeemer, that Thou hast not forgotten the promise which supports and strengthens us in our dispersion. 'And yet for all that, though they be in the land of their enemies, will I not cast them away, neither will I loath them to destroy them utterly, to break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God.'"
When Esther received the message of Mordecai, she too ordered a fast, and replaced her royal apparel with the sackcloth and ashes of mourning; and bowing her face before the Lord, she uttered this heartfelt prayer:
"God of Israel, from the beginning of time Thou hast reigned; the world and all it contains Thy power has created; to Thee, Thy handmaid calls for help! I am alone, oh God, without father and mother. Even as a poor woman, who begs from door to door, do I come before Thee for mercy, from window to window in the house of Ahasuerus. 1 From Thee alone can help and salvation flow. Oh, Father of the fatherless! stand upon the right hand of the orphan, I beseech Thee; give her mercy and favour in the eyes of Ahasuerus, that he may be moved to grant her petition for the lives of her people. 'May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable before Thee, oh Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen!'"
"And it came to pass on the third day."
After Esther had fasted three days, on the third day of her fast she arose from the ashes on which she had reposed, removed her garments of sackcloth, arrayed herself in her gorgeous robes of state, wearing her richest ornaments of gold of Ophir and precious stones, and prepared to enter the presence of the king. First, however, in voice broken by sobs and strong emotion, she again in privacy addressed the Most High.
"Before Thee, oh God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, before Thee, oh God of Benjamin, my ancestor, I pray. Before Thee I pray, ere I appeal unto my husband, Ahasuerus, the king, to supplicate for Thy people, Israel, whom Thou didst separate from other nations, to whom Thou gayest Thy holy law. Thy chosen people, oh God, who praise Thee three times daily, saying, 'Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.' As Thou didst save Chananyah, Mishael, and Azaryah from the raging furnace, and Daniel from the jaws of the lions, so save us now from the enemies who lie in wait for our destruction. Give me grace, I pray Thee, in the eyes of my lord, the king. Through our sins, oh Lord, are we condemned; yea all of us in whom the blood of Abraham quickens; yet surely the children should not suffer for the father's sin! If we have provoked Thy wrath, why should tender hearts and innocent babes be with us condemned to death? Oh remember the merit of Abraham to our salvation. Ten times didst Thou tempt him and he remained faithful before Thee. Protect the children of Thy beloved friends, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; banish from about them the evil with which Haman has encircled them." And Esther wept bitterly, and her tongue refused to utter the words which rose to her lips. "I go now," she said in her heart, "unto the king; oh let Thy angels of mercy precede
my footsteps; let the favour of Abraham go before me, and the merit of Isaac support my trembling frame; let the kindness of Jacob be in my mouth, and the purity of Joseph upon my tongue. As Thou didst listen to the voice of Jonah when he called upon Thee, so listen now to me. Oh God, whose eye seest the inmost recesses of the heart, remember the merit of the pious ones who served Thee faithfully, and for their sakes allow not my petition to be rejected. Amen."
And Esther took with her two of her waiting maids and entered the court of the king. On the arm of one she leaned, while the other followed bearing her train, that the golden fabric might not sweep along the ground. She concealed her grief in her heart, and her face was bright and her appearance happy.
It happened, when the king saw Esther standing in the court, that he was very wroth to think that she had overstepped both law and custom. Esther glanced up, and reading his anger in his eyes, became greatly terrified, and leaned heavily upon the handmaid who supported her. God saw her failing motion, and, pitying the distress of the orphan, he gave her grace before the king. The anger vanished from his eyes, and rising from his seat, he advanced to Esther and embraced and kissed her. With his arm about her neck he looked into her eyes, and seeing there her fear, he said, "What wilt thou, Queen Esther? Why art thou alarmed? Our laws are not meant for thee; thou art my friend; wherefore didst thou not speak when thy eyes looked upon me?"
And Esther answered:
"Because, my lord, when first I looked upon thee, thy glory and thy honour terrified me."
* * * * *
Esther had three objects in inviting Haman to her banquet with the king.
First. She did not wish Haman to think that she knew of his guilt, or was conspiring against him, which he might suspect if he discovered that Hatach carried messages between herself and Mordecai.
Secondly. She desired, in pursuance of her plan, to make the king jealous of Haman. Naturally he would ask himself why she had invited only Haman, thus singling him from, and honouring him above, the other princes.
Thirdly. That Israel might not be too sure of her efforts and so depend upon her altogether. Rather to let them find additional reasons for relying solely on the Lord.
"Then said unto him Zeresh, his wife, with all her friends, 'Let them make a gallows,'" &c.
"Thou canst never prevail against Mordecai by means which have already been brought to bear against his people," said Zeresh to Haman. "Thou canst not kill him with a knife or sword, for Isaac was delivered from the same; neither canst thou drown him, for Moses and the people of Israel walked safely through the sea. Fire will not burn him, for with Chananyah and his comrades it failed; wild beasts will not tear him, for Daniel was rescued from the lions' fangs; neither will a dungeon contain him, for Joseph walked to honour through a prison's gates. Even if we deprive him of sight we can not prevail against him, for Samson was made blind, and yet destroyed thousands of the Philistines. There is but one way left us; we must hang him."
It was in accordance with this advice that Haman built the gallows fifty cubits high. After he had erected this dread instrument of death, he sought the presence of Mordecai, to gloat over his coming triumph. He found the
[paragraph continues] Jew in the college, with his pupils gathered around him. Their loins were girded with sackcloth, and they wept at the words which their teacher was addressing to them.
"To-morrow," said Haman, "I will first destroy these children, and I will then hang Mordecai on the gallows I have prepared."
He remained in the school and saw the mothers of the pupils bring them their meals; but they all refused to eat, saying, "By the life of our teacher, Mordecai, we will neither eat nor drink; fasting will we die."
"In that night sleep fled from the king."
Ahasuerus imagined that Haman was a lover of Esther, because he alone, of all the princes, was invited to her banquet. When he slumbered he dreamed that he saw Haman with a sword in his hand, attempting his life, and awakening in fright, he was unable again to sleep. So he arose and called to Shimshi, his scribe, who was a relative of Haman, and bade him open the book of the chronicles of events which happened during the reigns of the kings of Persia and Media, and read to him from the same. The first page at which Shimshi opened the book contained the record of Mordecai's discovery and disclosure of the treason of Bigthana and Theresh, the king's chamberlains. The scribe did not wish to read this, and was about turning to another portion, when the king saw the action, and commanded him to read from the page which was first spread before him.
"Haman, therefore, said to the king, 'For the man whom the king desireth to honour let them bring a royal apparel,'" &c.
When the king heard this advice his suspicions seemed to him as facts. "He wishes to put on my royal apparel," thought Ahasuerus, "and to place my crown upon his head; then he will destroy me and reign in my stead."
Then said the king to Haman, "Bring from my state wardrobe the garment of purple from Ethiopia, the garment set with precious stones, to each of the four corners of which a golden chain is attached; bring also the ornaments which I wore on the day of my coronation, my hat of Ethiopian manufacture, and my royal cloak, embroidered with pearls from Africa. Go, then, to my stables, and take from thence the best steed which I possess; array Mordecai, the Jew, in the garments, and place him upon the horse."
And Haman answered, "There are many Jews in Shushan who are called Mordecai; which one is to have the honour?"
"Do all this that thou hast spoken," replied the king, "to Mordecai, the Jew, who lives by the king's gates; he who hath spoken well to the king and saved his life."
When Haman heard these words the blood seemed to congeal in his heart; his face grew blanched, his eyes became dim, and his mouth as though paralysed; with great effort he said:
"Oh king, how--how--can I tell which Mordecai thou meanest?"
"I have but just said," returned the king; "he who dwells at my gates."
"But he hates me," exclaims Haman, "me and my ancestors; do not force me to do him this honour, and I will pay ten thousand silver talents into thy treasury."
The king answered:
"Though I should give that ten thousand talents to Mordecai, aye, and give him also thy house to rule over it, yet this honour which thou hast spoken shouldst thou also do to him."
"My ten sons shall run before thy chariot," pleaded Haman; "they shall be thy slaves, if thou wilt but forego this order "
The king answered:
"Though thou, and thy wife, and thy ten sons should be slaves to Mordecai, yet this honour should be also his." But Haman still entreated:
"Lo, Mordecai is but a common subject of the king, appoint him ruler of a city, a province, or a street--let that be the honour paid him."
And again the king replied:
"Though I should appoint him ruler over al my provinces, though I should cause him to command all who owe me obedience on sea and land, still this honour, too, which thou hast spoken, should be done him. Surely he who has spoken to the advantage of his king, he who has preserved the life of his king, deserves all that should belong to the one whom the king most delights to honour."
"But the letters," continued Haman; "the letters which have been sent to all thy provinces, condemning him and his people to death.'
"Peace, peace," exclaimed the king; "though they should be recalled, Mordecai should still be honoured as thou hast spoken. Say no more, Haman; as thou hast spoken, do quickly; leave out nothing of all that thou hast said."
When Haman saw that all appeal was useless, he obeyed the king's orders with a heavy heart. With the garments and the richly caparisoned steed he sought Mordecai, and said, "Arise, oh Mordecai the righteous, descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, arise from thy sackcloth and ashes; lo, they have prevailed more than my talents of silver, and thy God has bestowed mercy upon thee. Arise, Mordecai, throw off thy sackcloth and ashes and don these royal garments."
Then Mordecai answered, "Oh, wicked Haman! the
time cometh when thou shalt eat wormwood and drink gall, oh son of Amalek."
"Come," returned Haman, "dress and mount the steed; the orders of the king must be obeyed."
Haman anointed Mordecai with sweet perfumes; arrayed him in royal robes, and mounted him upon the king's horse, according to his words and the commands of Ahasuerus. Then a procession was formed. Seventeen thousand soldiers were detailed as escort and divided into two bodies; one preceded and the other followed Mordecai, who was thus in the centre on a horse led by Haman. As they marched through the streets of Shushan the soldiers shouted, "Thus shall be done to the man whom the king desireth to honour."
When the Jews beheld this great procession, and Mordecai honoured in the midst of it, they followed after; and in return to the shouts of the troops they called out loudly, "Thus shall be done to the man who serves the King who created heaven and earth, and whom he desireth to honour." When Esther saw her kinsman thus arrayed, she thanked the Lord and praised Him.
"With the Psalmist I may say," she exclaimed, "'He raiseth up out of the dust the poor, from the dunghill he lifteth up the needy.' (Ps. 113: 7.) 'That he may set him with princes, even with the princes of His people.'"
Mordecai also praised the Lord, and said:
"'Thou hast changed my mourning into dancing for me, Thou hast loosened my sackcloth and girded me with joy; I will extol Thee, oh Lord, for Thou hast lifted me up, and hast not suffered my enemies to rejoice over me.'" (Ibid. 30: 12.)
Four distinct services did Haman render Mordecai. First, he was his hairdresser, for he shaved and anointed
him. Secondly, he was his valet, for he attended him in the bath. Thirdly, he was his footman, for he led the horse Mordecai rode. Fourthly, he was his trumpeter, for he proclaimed before him: "Thus shall be done to the man whom the king desireth to honour."
"And Haman related to Zeresh his wife," &c.
Haman received but little comfort from his friends. "Thou wilt surely fall," said his wife; "for those who endeavoured to burn Chananyah, Mishael, and Azaryah in the fiery furnace, were themselves consumed in the flames; take heed, for thou wilt surely fall before this Jew."
When the servants of the king saw that Haman was losing prestige, they too turned against him. Charbonyah told the king that Haman had designs against his royal person. "If thou believest not me," said the sycophant, "send to his house and there wilt thou find a gallows fifty cubits high for Mordecai, because he spoke well of thee and saved thy life."
The king said to Mordecai, "Go bring thy enemy Haman and hang him upon the gallows; do to him whatever is pleasing to thee."
Haman appealed to Mordecai and begged to be put to death by the sword, but Mordecai hearkened not to his words.
"Who digs a pit for another deserves to fall therein himself,' said he; "he who rolls a stone against another must not complain if it turn back and crush himself."
The following is the letter sent under the king's seal to counteract the decree issued against the Jews:
"To the noblemen, princes, and inhabitants of all our provinces, peace. Our government cannot prosper unless its people are united; let this find you all living in fraternal harmony. Let all the people of our provinces trade together
as one nation; let them have compassion and charity towards all nations and creeds, and honour all peaceful kingdoms of the earth. They who would deceive the king by evil reports concerning any people in our midst, and endeavour to obtain permission to exterminate peaceful, law-abiding persons, deserve death, and should meet with it. Let such as they perish, and the remainder live in harmony, forming a bond of peace never to be broken; aye, of triple thickness, that it may never grow weak. Let no insult be offered to any people.
"Esther is pious, worthy, and our queen, and Mordecai is the wisest of his age; he is without fault, he and his people. Through the advice of Haman, the son of Hamdatha, was our former decree issued, which now is declared null and void. And further we decree that the Jews may arise and protect themselves, aye, and take vengeance on such as raise a bloody hand against them.
"He who created Heaven and Earth has put these words in our heart and in our mouth, and thus we utter and decree them according to the laws of Persia and Media."
182:1 It was the ancient custom of the Jews to stand by a window and look upon the sky when praying. We find the fact thus recorded in Daniel (6: 11): "He had open windows in his upper chamber in the direction of Jerusalem."